Sexual Tensions in Modernizing Singapore: The Postcolonial and the Intimate

Authored by: Natalie Oswin

The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472455482
eBook ISBN: 9781315613000
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043331


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When a reform of the Singapore Penal Code was completed in 2007, local gay and lesbian activists seized the opportunity to lobby for the removal of Section 377A, a colonial-era statute prohibiting ‘gross indecency’ between two men. As public debates ensued, arguments for the repeal of this law focused on its status as a British import that is out of place and out of time in contemporary Singapore. But in a speech detailing the city-state government’s rationale for the decision to retain the statute, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (2007) set out a different notion of the relationship between past and present. In his view, the fact that ‘we are not starting from a blank slate’ is all the more reason to protect the ‘heterosexual stable family [as] a social norm’ that is ‘part of our landscape’. However unwittingly, his dismissal of the argument that being postcolonial entails an outright rejection of the remnants of a colonial past is aligned with postcolonial theory’s claim that the postcolonial condition is by no means beyond the colonial. As such, while Prime Minister Lee offered this justification as the last word on these recent debates, I take it as a point of departure for a critical response to this illiberal sexual politics. Following Prime Minister Lee’s assertion that Singapore’s past valuably shapes its present, I argue that consideration of heteronormativity as a colonial trace is necessary to better understand the politics of its perpetuation in this contemporary global city.

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